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Pablo_Stafforini comments on [Link] Reddit, help me find some peace I'm dying young - Less Wrong

22 Post author: Konkvistador 18 August 2012 03:17PM

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Comment author: Pablo_Stafforini 20 August 2012 05:07:23AM *  1 point [-]

Eliezer:

I would furthermore advise the billionaire that what they spend on utilons should be at least, say, 20 times what they spend on warm fuzzies—5% overhead on keeping yourself altruistic seems reasonable, and I, your dispassionate judge, would have no trouble validating the warm fuzzies against a multiplier that large.

To those who have donated to the girl with the express purpose of buying fuzzies: could you please name below the cost-effective charity to which you have given or will soon give at least 20 times the amount donated?

Comment author: Mitchell_Porter 20 August 2012 06:53:20AM 0 points [-]

People talked about "warm fuzzies" in order to defend themselves against the criticism that they might be supporting a scam. Now that Kim is here on this site, and likely to die right in front of us in a few months' time, I don't think that's what anyone is feeling.

Comment author: Pablo_Stafforini 20 August 2012 04:14:23PM *  2 points [-]

People talked about "warm fuzzies" in order to defend themselves against the criticism that they might be supporting a scam.

I don't think this is correct. People talked about warm fuzzies also to justify a donation which clearly isn't cost-effective. For example, in his original post kokvistador writes: "I'd also encourage those like me for who this buys a lot of warm fuzzies to donate. " See also his exchange with gwern, where he elaborates on his rationale for donating.

Now that Kim is here on this site, and likely to die right in front of us in a few months' time, I don't think that's what anyone is feeling.

I didn't know Kim was here. If you think conducting this discussion might be a cause of much pain for her, perhaps we should move it to somewhere else.

For what is worth, I'd like to stress that I empathize with Kim and I feel genuinely saddened by the situation. At the same time, I don't think this is a valid justification for lowering the standards of argument and evidence we normally require.

Comment author: Mitchell_Porter 21 August 2012 04:07:46AM 1 point [-]

OK, I missed the occurrence of the phrase in the post itself. But I think it is being employed because it is a readily available LW idiom, not because it is psychologically accurate. Donating to help someone obtain cryopreservation is not a feel-good sort of donation in any conventional sense. No-one in the history of the world has ever been revived from cryosuspension. The whole situation confronts people with their own mortality and the fact that society is not set up to save them from it. You can argue about whether donating is the "optimal" thing for anyone to do, but I don't think "warm fuzzies vs utilons" is the right way to describe the psychology of the initial response, or to frame the subsequent debate about what to do. Wanting to donate, and then deciding not to, would be a triage decision in this case. Or even like deciding to neglect your own family in order to send money to unknown orphans on the other side of the world.

I don't think we should move the conversation.

Comment author: Pablo_Stafforini 21 August 2012 05:42:00AM *  1 point [-]

I challenged the "warm fuzzies" argument because it was the only prima facie plausible justification for donating to the girl that I could find on this thread. If the phrase is not being use to justify the donation but merely to explain why people donate, then I simply restate my challenge as demanding a justification of some kind for spending money on a cause whose expected benefit, whether measured in lives saved or suffering prevented, is a tiny fraction of what one can expect from a donation to the most effective charities out there, as rated e.g. by Give Well, Giving What We Can or Effective Animal Activism.

Comment author: MixedNuts 21 August 2012 04:57:27PM 1 point [-]

Cryonics promotion. We (I, at any rate) want cryonics to be easier to sign up for, for mostly selfish reasons. An additional patient decreases somewhat the financial and social costs of cryonics, and a case that brings publicity (Reddit is big) of an overwhelmingly positive kind (Kim is a cute girl begging for help) will directly lower the social cost and attract new patients. I took the money from my ice cream budget, not my altruistic one.

Comment author: Jonathan_Graehl 21 August 2012 07:48:52PM 1 point [-]

If I understand you correctly, whenever an opportunity of this efficacy is available for promoting cryonics (or plastination, or life extension) that it becomes your top-quality marginal charitable dollar. Or perhaps you're saying merely that it's decent charity, enough to justify rolling with the emotional attachment to an individual.

Someone on IRC suggested I fund the Brain Preservation prize Robin Hanson posted about rather than sign up for cryonics now, since I'm pretty sure current practice just won't work at all and I want to advance the state of the art.

Comment author: MixedNuts 21 August 2012 09:27:27PM 3 points [-]

it becomes your top-quality marginal charitable dollar

No, not charitable. (I said "for mostly selfish reasons" and " I took the money from my ice cream budget, not my altruistic one.") It's a pampering budget, for things I want for myself but can skip buying now without any fuss, like saving for retirement and tasty food and museum visits and socks with no holes and trips to see friends. My top-quality charitable dollar is still for malaria nets.

Comment author: Jonathan_Graehl 22 August 2012 10:02:32PM 0 points [-]

Oh. I missed that you considered cryonics promotion selfish more than charitable. My fault.

Comment author: Mitchell_Porter 22 August 2012 01:39:01AM 1 point [-]

a justification of some kind

If we accept the original framework of "you're allowed 95% utilons and 5% non-utilons", then it can still fall under the "allowed non-utilon" category.

If we were to take the other option and try to defend this as an optimal expenditure of money, it might be defended as an act of civilization-building. None of the charities you list will decide the fate of the world; they all depend on the existence somewhere else of a functioning self-sufficient society with spare capacity. Frankly, if you really do take the big picture, it is far from clear that any of those activities matter very much. Civilizational directions are not usually set by what happens in the most unfortunate places.

So if we swing to a different extreme and consider whether high-tech futurist activities might be the best place to spend money, then there's a different challenge - why spend your money on helping to make a single cryonic suspension happen, rather than on FAI research, brain modeling, or wherever you think the most neglected area is.

But actions of a different kind also matter. People who are attuned to these topics need to shake off the distractions of an uncomprehending world and remind themselves of why they took the ideas seriously to begin with. One step leads to another. Unless we just have a singularity first, a day is going to come when there's a lot more than just one desperate person, out of the 100,000 who die every day, seeking cryonic suspension.

When it really, finally dawns on the human race at large that cryonics might work, that a slightly more advanced medicine might cure most causes of death even without cryonics, etc., there is going to be mayhem. Sorting out a rational balance now between self-preservation, conventional charity, and futurist charity may do a little to alleviate that mayhem when it arrives; and it's clear that none of these activities should be wholly absent in the right balance. So we absolutely need to figure out how to accommodate something like Kim's situation into our "optimizing", rather than just putting it to one side.